WASHINGTON (B)--USDA released a new forecast Feb. 23 predicting U.S. farmers will plant 61 million acres of wheat this year, a drop from 62.5 million in 2000. The department said wheat production for the 2001-02 crop year will also drop to 2.125 billion bushels from 2.223 billion in the prior year.

USDA's Farm Service Agency offered little commentary on the new forecasts for planting and production, except to say that both wheat and corn are expected to lose acreage to soybeans this year.

However, FSA economists speaking at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum stressed ending stocks will be significantly lower.

"Total use in 2001 to 2002 is expected to drop 4%, but supplies are down more, so ending stocks, at 721 million bushels, are the lowest since 1996 to 1997," an FSA economist said. "Thus, market prices are expected to average about $2.85 per bushel, up from $2.65 in 2000-01."

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